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How do the characters deal with their guilt in Fifth Business?How do Boyd and Paul deal...

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italianracer | Student, Grade 11 | eNotes Newbie

Posted March 28, 2010 at 1:21 PM via web

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How do the characters deal with their guilt in Fifth Business?

How do Boyd and Paul deal with their guilt? I'm specifically asking about the guilt they feel as a result of the snowball incident.

Thanks for the help, I really appreciate it.

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sfwriter | College Teacher | (Level 2) Associate Educator

Posted March 29, 2010 at 3:41 AM (Answer #1)

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Percy-Boyd Staunton, the thrower of the snowball and the one who put a rock in it, should be the one who bears the most guilt of the snowball incident.  It was he who made the snowball into a weapon that could hurt Mrs. Dempster, and it was he who threw it.  Perversely, Percy-Boyd (later just called Boy) seems to feel the least guilt.  He never owns up to throwing the snowball, nor does he take the least interest in the decline of Mary Dempster and the destruction of her family.  His life becomes one glorious success after another -- culminating in his suicide (or murder, we are never entirely certain), and we are left, like Dunny, to believe that either Boy sublimated his guilt into a life of hedonism which masked his self-hatred, or he was incapable of understanding responsibility and guilt.  There is definite ambiguity here.  There is no visible way that Boy Staunton showed his guilt -- and when confronted with the truth, he denied it.

Dunny, of course, who was less culpable (as he didn't know that the snowball had a rock in it, and he only stepped out of the way to avoid it, never intending that it hit the pregnant Mary Dempster), assumes much more of the guilt.  He is consumed by it, and spends his childhood in mortal fear of human and divine reprisal, and his adulthood in attempted expiation.

Paul, who was an unborn baby in his mother's womb at the time of the incident, spends his childhood in guilt, too.  This is encouraged by his inadequate, fanatical father who is wholly incapable of handling his wife's mental illness. Paul is always feeling guilty about his part (which was really no part!) in his mother's madness -- but his birth coincided with the onset of his mother's insanity, and he can never get beyond it.  At one point, Paul could no longer stand the guilt, and he ran away from home and joined the traveling circus.  As a child he could never understand that this would be the final nail in his mother's mental coffin -- she would never recover from her madness after his loss.

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